Knowing how to properly set your bass amp’s gain staging is critical to achieving the best possible bass sound for your style and your band. With a little practice and a good ear, you can dial in a sweet bass sound with any amp, on any stage.
Most bass amps have two main volume controls: input gain, which controls the preamp, and master volume, which controls the power amp. These controls may be labelled differently on different amps, but their essential functions remain the same. On the Carvin B2000 bass amp, these knobs are labelled DRIVE and VOLUME.
You can consider the DRIVE control to be the tone-shaping aspect of your bass rig. It works in conjunction with the equalization controls to set the overall character of your bass sound. Turn up the DRIVE and your bass will start to overdrive a bit and get dirty. The B2000 has a 12AX7 tube inside for some extra warmth and grit that will help your bass punch through the mix. For all you raucous rockers out there, this may be exactly what you want. Turn the DRIVE down and it’ll clean up nicely.
If a squeaky clean sound is what you’re going for, two separate CLIP LEDS will help you know when you need to back off the DRIVE further. The CLIP LED will flash if your bass’s signal is too hot. Even though the B2000’s DRIVE control is designed to overdrive the preamp, some basses, especially active ones, may prematurely clip it. If your playing is lighting up that CLIP LED, simply roll back the DRIVE. Remember that adjusting the DRIVE also adjusts the overall volume of the amplifier, so you may have to give the VOLUME a little bump after doing this.
If that’s not enough, engage the ACTIVE INPUT, which effectively compensates for instruments with active electronics or heavy-handed players.
The Power amp section, which is controlled by the VOLUME knob, also has its own CLIP LED. If this flashes, you’re driving the power amp too hard. Turn down the volume level and you’ll be good to go.
Once you’ve dialed in the tone you want using the DRIVE control and checked your levels using the CLIP LEDS, use the VOLUME to bring the bass sound you dialed in up to the correct level to suit the rest of your band, and rock out.